Serving Army through music

Army specialist Philip Tappan plays the keyboard as part of the jazz ensemble during the U.S. Army School of Music graduation concert and ceremony at Little Creek Joint Expeditionary Base in Virginia Beach, Va. Tappan was given the Distinguished Honor Graduate Award for his class. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Vicki Cronis-Nohe)

— At the piano, an Army specialist hunched over the keyboard and leaned into the microphone.

“A Foggy Day in London Town,” he crooned in a rich tenor.

After 10 weeks at the U.S. Army School of Music, located at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, Spc. Philip Tappan and his classmates were preparing to graduate. Their final tests, or auditions, were over, and they were getting ready to rejoin their individual units — some active duty, some Reserve, some National Guard — as Army band members.

“It’s just kind of cool that the military has this,” said Tappan, 29, who received the Distinguished Honor Graduate Award. “It’s one of the few government jobs you can have as an artistic person or musician.”

But there’s more, he said. There’s the ceremony and the pomp — dress uniforms, marching bands, a slice of deep Americana and tradition. “You feel like you are in something.”

The 46 men and women in the 10-week Advanced Individual Training course were already professional musicians. They came from all over the country and a variety of musical backgrounds to attend the only Army music school in the United States.

Here, the candidates were broken into groups and had to learn how to work together, perform unfamiliar music and connect with an audience.

“When you study music at a university, they teach you an instrument,” said Spc. Stephen Ondak, stationed with the 215th Army National Guard band in Fall River, Mass. “Here, we learn how to perform and put on a show.”

As military musicians, they perform not only for the troops, particularly those serving in difficult or dangerous conditions, but also in communities, serving as a liaison for the Army.

And as soldiers, they still had to go through regular Army basic training.

“I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone, being in this group,” said Sheri Muneno, a 26-year-old flutist from Honolulu who has a master’s in music and serves with the 4th Infantry Division in Fort Carson, Colo.

“I’ve learned about selflessness,” said Spc. William Wallace, an active-duty soldier stationed at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. “As a civilian, it was about showcasing myself, forwarding my career. Here it is about coming together. We are going where the Army needs us to go and serving our country through music.”